Llano County Library System patrons found themselves closed out of three library branches for three days leading up to Christmas. They were also cut off from the online portal, OverDrive, after county officials called for a “review” of children and young adult materials.
During its Dec. 13 meeting, the Llano County Commissioners Court called for several actions regarding the Llano County Library System, which includes the Llano County Library, Kingsland Branch Library, and Lakeshore Branch Library in Buchanan Dam.
Library staffs were ordered to take the three days to go through youth and children’s books and materials to determine if any are inappropriate for young readers.
Commissioners also restructured the Library Advisory Board from its current eight members to 13 and temporarily suspended the online service OverDrive.
Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham said the actions came about after scrutiny of Texas public libraries that began last summer.
“The Llano County Library System was no exception and as we began evaluating our operations, we concluded our library system required a thorough review of not only our current policies and operations, but strategic planning to determine the future of our libraries which are primarily funded by Llano County,” the judge stated in an email to DailyTrib.com.
The Llano County Library System, he pointed out, operates under “established policies” and an annual budget of more than $500,000. The Commissioners Court approves both the policy and budget each year.
Public scrutiny of libraries heated up in October when state Rep. Matt Krause emailed a letter to the Texas Education Agency and several school superintendents regarding approximately 850 books he did not think were appropriate for children. In the email, Krause requested that districts report how many copies of each book on the list they have and how much money they’ve spent on those books.
He wrote the email after five Texas public school districts removed books because of parents, students and/or residents’ objections to them, Krause said.
According to the Texas Library Association, many of the books on Krause’s list were by authors of color, about people of color, or dealt with LBGTQ topics, issues, and/or characters.
On Nov. 1, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards telling them that school districts need to shield students from “pornography and other inappropriate content.”
About nine days later, Abbott sent a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath “directing the agency to investigate any criminal activity in public schools involving the availability of pornographic material that serves no educational purpose.”
The governor also directed the agency to “report any instance of pornography being provided to minors under the age of 18 for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”
The action has drawn criticism from library and free speech advocates, but the political pressure has also led several school districts to review materials, and in some cases, remove books from shelves, even if temporarily.
On Nov. 4, school librarians across the country began the FReadom social media campaign (#FReadom) in response to the political move to remove books from library shelves.
In the Llano County libraries, Cunningham said it’s not about removing books for young people, but making sure they’re in the best sections for patrons.
“Our staff is working to ensure the placement of books at all three locations is consisten with the age-appropriate section,” he stated.
The sections are: Easy (Birth to 1st), Junior (2nd to 5th), Youth (6th to 12th) and Young Adult.
Currently, if people have a problem with materials in a book, Cunningham said patrons can complete a “Request of Reconsideration” form for staff evaluation. He added that the county library system, library advisory board, and county commissioners court will work on developing a comprehensive policy regarding age-appropriate materials and their placement “and adhering to that policy.”
As for the online service, OverDrive, the commissioners want to get a better understanding of the accessibility of the materials. They will also explore other online services and evaluate which one best fits Llano County.
The county commissioners will take up the subject again during its Jan. 10, 2022, meeting when the court is expected to restructure the library board.
“Once the new members have been appointed, this advisory board will begin meeting, tasked with reviewing the library policies, feasibility of operations, and making recommendations for policy change and cost savings to ensure sustainability,” Cunningham said. “Although this is a controversial issue which cannot be resolved with one or two meetings, Llano County is dedicated to this process and working to develop a comprehensive policy and strategic plan to make sure we maintain a Llano County Library System.”